By on July 11, 2019

Clear Snow from tops of cars. Image: Ottawa Police Twitter

TTAC Commentator Arthur Dailey writes (and edited to remove confusion):

Sajeev,

Opening my 2011 Hyundai Sonata’s door this morning after a beautiful overnight snowfall (Yes, it takes that long to answer Piston Slap questions – SM), I once again was confronted with a driver’s seat and inside door panel, covered in snow.

Those living in the snow belt will often park their car at the rink, library, ski hill, mall, at work etc. and return to find it covered in snow. You don’t bring your scraper with you in these situations. And even if you use your glove/arm/hand to clear some of the snow, when you open your door, the residue falls. Onto your power window/mirror/door lock mechanisms. And often onto the seat. You get into your car and start it to warm it up and help clear the windshield. And that residue melts.

This is a re-occurring problem: happening in many other vehicles that I have recently rented/owned. With the sloped roofs now common on cars, snow regularly falls into the passenger compartment when you open the door. There used to be gutters/sills along the edges of car rooflines. In fact I believe that up until the 1960’s they might have been an optional extra, as they were often chromed. Later they were just an integrated part of the roof.

I can’t remember exactly when roofline gutters disappeared from cars, but I understand that this was probably due to aerodynamic issues. I also noticed that there are a number of aftermarket options now available, sometimes referred to as ‘rain guards’.

However why can’t auto designers develop a roofline that prevents snow from dropping onto the car seats whenever the door is opened?

Sajeev answers:

You’ve opened a lot of doors (sorry) with your query!

  1. Rain guards only work when doors are closed, therefore I see no product addressing your concern. Best and Brightest: a little help? 
  2. Sloped roofs are usually better for aerodynamics, but the curvature might also improve safety: metallurgy and finite element analysis aside, a curved roof can channel energy better than a boxier one.
  3. You must remove snow before opening the door.  Not only does it solve your problem, it’s the law in certain states/provinces.

It’s not just the roof, you’re clearing the snow from the hood and trunk too. All horizontal surfaces, Son!

If your state lacks such a rule, perhaps we need YouTube-guilt you to drive the point home.

Sure, your query coulda been about entering a vehicle to not drive it, but I’m not gonna assume that.

And this isn’t a case of car designers going back to the drawing board, it’s about stepping away from it.  Far, far away.

[Image: Ottawa Police Twitter]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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91 Comments on “Piston Slap: When to Step Away from the Drawing Board?...”


  • avatar
    NoID

    There has to be a better way!

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I keep the snow brush on the floor in front of the back seat. After unlocking the car, I open the rear door first, grab the brush and clean off the car.

      Only after cleaning do I attempt to open the front door and start it up. That puff of snow which falls inside is OK in the back, since nobody sits there for most trips.

      Alternately, keep the snow brush up front and open the front passenger door first.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick_515

        Wow. Both you and Flipper below: keep that sucker in the trunk! Problem solved. Snow rarely falls into an opened trunk, and if it did, it bothers me way less. Grab it, clean drivers door, start the car, clean the rest.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Mine stays in the trunk as well.

          Even though I clean the door as best I can, a little snow still gets inside the cabin. We’ll see what happens beginning this winter, when I can remote-start the car from my phone, then arrive at a running car seven minutes (and a quarter-mile walk) later.

        • 0 avatar
          Flipper35

          I brush the snow by hand off the door, which is a smaller area than the trunk. If any snow gets inside it is easily brushed off. It is hard to brush it out of the trunk. I don’t like wet trunk smell.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      Yes, move to a warmer region!

      (Southern California resident)

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    I carry a brush and scraper, in the car. I brush the snow off the back door by hand, reach in and get the brush and clear the car.

    I hate when the driver in front doesn’t brush their car off.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I can’t believe this is a topic for discussion, in July no less with 90 degree temperatures everywhere. As Sajeev already answered,

    “You must remove snow before opening the door. Not only does it solve your problem, it’s the law in certain states/provinces.”

    If you’re not sure how go get your ice scraper, now turn it around, see the brush on the other end? That’s for snow removal BEFORE entering the car, so be sure to keep one in the house (they’re cheap you can afford two) so you’ll have it handy the next time it snows… in July

    Well, at least I feel a little cooler

  • avatar
    Jaeger

    One day, human beings will become sufficiently evolved to figure out that sweeping the snow from door / roof seam BEFORE opening the door will eliminate this “problem”. One day. Maybe. And until manufacturers develop an rain sensing hat with an automatically deploying umbrella, we’ll have to open them for ourselves, as well. Life is hardship.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I remember sweeping the snow off the truck before getting into it long ago…..

    Most of the modern cars I get to ride in also allow mucho rain to come in when you open the door in a rain storm…..

    -Nate

  • avatar
    IBx1

    …remove the snow before opening the door

    I know we can’t expect much from someone who spent actual money to drive a hunday, but wow.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Modern cars are designed to be perfectly sealed up tight when the doors and windows are closed, but there are no design considerations for other operational modes. That means they do not test how the snow falls in when the door is opened.
    They also don’t test how the car behaves when driving with the windows down. In almost all newer cars, the top half is all buffeting and noise while your legs swelter with no air movement whatsoever. Side windows are now only opened to allow the entry of french fries and lattes. They don’t even make sure rain doesn’t drip in if you crack the window.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Those plastic rainguards work amazingly well, I have them, problem solved

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        I have only ever had 1 set, and they were not good. The windows kept hitting them and bouncing back.

        Are certain manufacturers better than others? I haven’t tried WeatherTech, but could be curious.

      • 0 avatar
        Jaeger

        New problem created: now you have cheap, fugly plastic eavestroughs ringing your car. That you paid good money for. And put there on purpose.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          I wish they made something that you could stick into a slightly-open window that would allow you to keep the window cracked, and yet would keep rain out. After getting out of the car on a summer day, I like to crack the windows slightly by turning the key in the door lock. Unfortunately, I still get caught, and have to sprint a quarter-mile to my car to close the windows. (And the app which lets me start and stop the engine via my iPhone doesn’t also roll up the windows when you tell it to lock the car! First-world problems!)

          Grab that out of the trunk, shove them into place, problem solved!

  • avatar
    Rnaboz

    Global warming will solve this silly snow problem.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I carry two scrappers/snow brushes. I also keep another one in the garage. A pair of gloves can help out.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I’m not sure that Sajeev understands the question/issue.

    Those living in the snow belt will often park their car at the rink, library, ski hill, mall, at work etc. and return to find it covered in snow.

    You don’t bring your scraper with you in these situations.

    And even if you use your glove/arm/hand to clear some of the snow, when you open your door, the residue falls. Onto your power window/mirror/door lock mechanisms. And often onto the seat.

    You get into your car and start it to warm it up and help clear the windshield. And that residue melts.

    Cars that were built in the 1960’s and 1970’s did not have that problem. They had built in gutters.

    This also applies to rain. In cars from previous decades you could open the door without a deluge into the passenger compartment from the roof.

    The reason why these gutters are no longer installed/manufactured/designed, has not been addressed.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      People living within the frozen lands should have their snow brush sheathed to their side like a medieval knight carried his sword.

    • 0 avatar
      Robotdawn

      I think he understands it just fine. I do, having lived in West Michigan the first 40 years of my life. There are multiple solutions up-thread. It’s never been a problem except the first snowfall of the year, when I inevitably forget and curse myself out for 15 minutes afterwards.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I disagree. He did not address the original question in the least.
        Check my posting below regarding the issues I have mentioned that mirror the OP’s.

        And I have driven in Canada for over 45 years. Never had that problem with any cars built in the 60’s or 70’s including VW Beetles with their ’rounded’ roofline.

        • 0 avatar
          Robotdawn

          My mistake Arthur, yes, he is actually asking why manufacturers don’t keep doing the old gutter, or create another solution.
          I assume everyone is missing that because we don’t consider it a real problem? Therefore no one is going to put any real engineering money towards fixing something not all that important.
          Someone some day will come up with something simple and elegant and not ugly, and it’ll be a selling point for a hot minute.

          • 0 avatar
            Flipper35

            I don’t think people are missing that they don’t make the rain guards anymore, they are mentioning how to work around the issue of no rain guards. I don’t see them coming back anytime soon.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you for your clarification. Houstonians apparently will not understand the question, sadly.

    • 0 avatar
      Jaeger

      Those that live in the snow belt may not walk around with a scraper dangling from their hip – but they pretty much always walk around with gloves. One swipe, “problem” solved.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      It is all about the aerodynamics. Plain and simple and no it isn’t going to be changed because of that. It wasn’t so much the existence of the gutter that prevented the snow from coming in as much as it was the fact that the door frame was recessed under the roof line.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Right part of it is “air management” and trying to reduce NVH. Flush glass and flush doors help present a smoother shape for the air to be managed around and provide less wind noise.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I’m old enough to have driven cars and trucks with rain gutters. This problem still happened except the door seals and build quality tended to suck on most vehicles of that era. The door seals tended to be crappy so there was little suction from the opening of the door to pull snow inside.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      I used to live in the snow belt and drove csrs built in the 1960s. Those cars not only had rain gutters, they had vertical sides, so the roof was as wide as the door windows, and flat side window glass!

      The first mass-produced car with curved side window glass was the Plymouth Duster in 1970. That was the beginning of the bulbous era, when cars were wider than the roof.

      There’s no solution with a modern car. Your choice is to drive a classic/antique, or get a boxy truck.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      He mentioned it in #2. Aero and structural engineering.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I’m not sure that Sajeev understands the question/issue. (sorry for the repeat post but the ‘edit’ function on TTAC is awful.)

    Those living in the snow belt will often park their car at the rink, library, ski hill, mall, at work etc. and return to find it covered in snow.

    You don’t bring your scraper with you in these situations.

    And even if you use your glove/arm/hand to clear some of the snow, when you open your door, the residue falls. Onto your power window/mirror/door lock mechanisms. And often onto the seat.

    You get into your car and start it to warm it up and help clear the windshield. While you clear the roof, windshield, side windows, mirrors, trunk, front grill and headlights. And that residue melts.

    Cars that were built in the 1960’s and 1970’s did not have that problem. They had built in gutters.

    This also applies to rain. In cars from previous decades you could open the door without a deluge into the passenger compartment from the roof.

    The reason why these gutters are no longer installed/manufactured/designed, has not been addressed.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I keep my scraper in the boot, and open it with the handy dandy button. Quick pop and sweep. Get it, got it, good.

  • avatar
    relton

    The reason cars don’t have gutters, and have issues with snow falling into the car, is styling. Aero, strength, all that bows before styling. I have worked in the car design and engineering business for 50 years, and it has always been that way, and probably always will.

    Everything else is rationalization after the fact.
    Bob

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      This^^^^^^^^^^^^
      I bet that Model As and other cars of that era did not have this problem at all, due to vertical windows.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      A lot of older cars had gutters, I’m not beside my 1st gen S10 atm, but I believe even it has gutters. This no gutter phenomenon is fairly new I believe. Of course it’s not really an issue when doors are vertical like on my Hummers.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Thanks for reminding me that I need to put my umbrella and scraper back in my vehicle. Took them out when I moved so there would be a smidgen more room for moving boxes.

  • avatar
    Raevoxx

    I grew up in the Detroit suburbs, and owned/drove a number of vehicles through the Winter.

    This was never a problem for me. And if it DID happen, it was my own fault for not clearing enough snow. Snow on your sleeves and coat and such? Comes with the territory. Don’t like it? Move somewhere milder. Dan’s an idiot, this is a non-issue.

    I fixed the problem, I moved to California. Neener neener.

    No sympathy.

    PS: Rain gutters are moot when you have multiple inches of snowfall accumulated on the surface.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Well you obviously don’t understand the issue.

      1) You go out to your car and it is covered in snow.
      2) Your scraper and brush are in the car, because unlike your firearm (cheap shot here), you cannot carry them with you.
      3) You wipe the roofline of your car with your coat arm. Nothing nicer when you are wearing a nice wool overcoat.
      4) You open the door and the residue falls onto the switches for the power windows/doors/mirrors. And it is impossible to clean it all out.
      5) You start your car. Possibly getting some remaining residue of the snow on the seat of your pants.
      6) You then get your scraper and clear the snow from the roof, side windows, hood, rear window, front grill and headlights.
      7) Meanwhile if you have a passenger (or passengers) do they stand out in the cold waiting while you do this, or do they open their doors resulting in more snow falling into the car? Or do you carry scrappers for every passenger?
      8) Most importantly and this is the question that Sajeev missed, is all of this necessary when nearly all cars built in the 1960’s and 1970’s had integrated roofline gutters that prevented this? Why are autos no longer designed with this feature?

      The only reasonable answer I have seen is to keep the scrapper in the trunk. However this is not practical as quite often the trunk freezes shut and other times it has so much snow accumulation that you cannot open it until you have brushed it.

      • 0 avatar
        Raevoxx

        Oh, I understand completely.

        “That’s life”.

        It’s where you live. You deal. There isn’t really anything else to it.

      • 0 avatar
        dougjp

        Yup, Sajeev completely missed what he was reading, or what he was writing.

        And I found the answer really funny – MUST remove snow before opening the door (I sure hope he instead meant to say before driving away with snow all over the roof).

        OK NOW… so the brush/scrapers are located IN the car, and as another poster suggested, an extra in the house. Your car is NOT at your house, the trunk is frozen shut, and the advice says its illegal to open the door!!

        So therefore what is the Aristotle-like end advice from this Catch 22? Wait and die there from hypothermia!!

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          @DougJP: Thanks. What if we factor in kids/children? How much ‘wiping’ of snow has to be accomplished before they can enter?

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          Oh for Christ’s sake, so some snow gets on the front seat you’ll live and next time you’ll buy a car with remote start and just let the heat clear the windows

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      If the option was a foot of snow all day everyday or moving to California, many of us would choose the snow, myself included.

      • 0 avatar
        Raevoxx

        Well that’s just like, your opinion, man.

        Moving out of Michigan, regardless of location, was the best life decision I ever made.

        Given the choice between a [perpetually] shaky, insular job market with cheap rent, and a healthy job market with high rent, I’ll choose the job security every time. California just happened to be the destination.

        Whether or not you have the ability, or choice, to move, is a “you” problem. Not a “me” problem. Same goes with your chosen locale.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          You do realize there are 48 other states besides Michigan and California right? Some even have good weather. Even if you take the 100 other reasons why I wouldn’t want to live in California out of the equation and focus on economics, it’s hard to justify the added cost of living. I have found very few positions that pay anything near enough to cover the additional expense incurred. Keeping it just Michigan and California as an argument, average salary in California is $63,783, and $54,909 in Michigan. That’s before California bends you over and taxes away that difference. You say your position pays better? Then California bends you over even more. Then you buy your $800k shack and they bend you over a third time in property taxes. I’ll pass.

  • avatar
    cprescott

    What is so difficult about the concept of cleaning off your roof of your car BEFORE you try opening the door? I don’t even open the door with the snow on the windows – I clean before.

    Seems to me we are blaming cars for the lack of common sense that some people seem to showcase! And keeping a spare snow brush in the house has greatly facilitated not having to end up with snow in the car – a problem that happened even with 1960’s cars until I wised up and didn’t blame someone else.

  • avatar
    cprescott

    Are these real questions asked or ones that are carefully selected so we can all feel better that we aren’t the question writer?

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      I expect a thorough public apology from Sajeev regarding this. I don’t blame the posters for not understanding the question/concern when Sajeev so thoroughly misunderstood/botched it.

      So please read my response(s) and then post your answer.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    O.M.G.
    I have extensive experience in snowfalls. Here are instructions for handling door opening after a snowfall:
    1. Approach the door;
    2. Raise your arm;
    3. Lower your hand until the point that it come in contact with the top of the door frame at its top right corner. For best results, step back from the vehicle as far as you can while maintaining the contact between your hand and the vehicle;
    4. While keeping your hand in contact with the vehicle, perform a sweeping motion in counterclockwise direction until your hand come in contact with the mirror.
    5. It is now safe to open the door.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I usually just open the door an inch or so and then slam it again – that will mostly shake loose anything that’d get sucked into the interior. It’s enough to be able to get in and get the car running, and grab my snow brush without pulling in a snowbank on my seat. Whatever does get in is probably still less than I’d get covered in while clearing the car off.

  • avatar
    EGSE

    Clearly this poses an existential threat to our civilization that is too terrible to contemplate and too important to ignore. The title should be changed to reflect that fact. “Death From Above” would be appropriate.

  • avatar
    JakeSizzle27

    In winter time, especially during snowy weather, people wear these things called GLOVES! Quite often these gloves are made of a material that repels moisture (magic!) and one might just be able to wipe that gloves along the gap between the door and the A Pillar/Roof/B PIllar. Voila! No more snow falling in your car!

    Should we also tell you how to replace your blinker fluid and recharging your turbo encabulator?

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The original intent of this question was completely misconstrued. And although there have been some excellent responses, there have been a multitude that range from ‘unfortunate’ to ‘just plain silly’.

    So to reiterate:
    1) Why were integrated roof gutters removed?
    2) When did this occur?
    3) What are your passengers supposed to do, while you get your scraper and clear all the roof and side windows? Because if they get into the vehicle before that, there will be a veritable ‘avalanche’ of snow/precipitation.
    4) Without these gutters there will always be some residue snow or rain that falls onto the controls for the power door locks/windows/mirrors. Will these negatively impact them, in the long term?

    Does that clarify the issue?
    Now perhaps we can get to the intent of Vellum Venom, which is to address the design issue regarding gutters/rooflines/windows.

    And this is not the only issue with cars being designed without regard to northern climes. For example the recessed/hidden wipers from GM, the back window lines that result in snow entering the trunk or the trunk being unable to open and the fact that LED lights don’t melt snow and therefore become obscured.

    • 0 avatar
      qwerty shrdlu

      3) The passengers clean off the roof and windows for me while I sit in the drivers seat warming up the car and listening to the radio. Unless they would prefer to be pedestrians. There may be some danger in trying this.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    1)
    “Rain Gutters” probably picked up that appellation some time after they were introduced, likely as a marketing gimmick to explain away the seemingly useless feature. They were never intended to be a gutter of any kind and frankly sucked at such function. Their existence is merely a consequence of the prevalent methods of stamping and assembling steel bodies. Sharp corners were impossible to form so they rolled the edge flanges of adjoining stampings together. The pieces were generally spot-welded in this area, and then openings sealed and smoothed for paint. Because roof panels were flush to the sides of the car they first appeared above door jambs where the body side attached to the roof from under the roof allowing the closed door to fit flush. In the 1950s when the “hardtop” or frameless door style became popular (even with the narrow window sashes of “post” cars) this seam/flange became more prominent as there was more of a visual disconnect between the window surface and the roof than there previously was with a full door stamping that encompassed the window.

    2)
    You’re old enough to remember that rust was a prevalent issue with even new
    car bodies into the 1980s. It may be no coincidence then (in fact I’m sure it isn’t) that it was the 1980s that saw the phase-out of the rain gutter. Body stamping style changed to reduce areas where body panels were joined that could entrap water or even hold water in the event of paint or caulking failure. The rain gutter was a prime area. The manner in which roof panels were attached to body sides shifted to promote water drainage away from the attachment point and allow the pre-coating of panels that were then assembled with means other than spot welding. Having e-coating or paint or structural adhesive between steel panels reduced rusting. It also eliminated the need for a flange where spot welds could occur and then have to be dressed, so the “rain gutter” went away. Visible body seams went away. Rusting ceased to be prevalent issues in cars less than 10 years old. Changes in stamping and body assembly techniques improved precision and allowed better sealing, which likely helps air currents push falling snow into the vehicle rather than past the door opening.

    3)
    Passengers also have hands. More people increases likelihood somebody has gloves. Make them clear their own dang roofline section.

    4)
    If you’re worried, you could always keep a portable compressed air tank and blow gun in your car. Blowing compressed air should dislodge snow from all switches/buttons/pockets. The decompressing of air cools it so it would not melt the snow.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Thanks for a serious attempt at answering the question. However if you look at the picture of the Type I VW you will see that the ‘gutter’ extends for the entire roofline and was specifically shaped that way. Also in the 1980’s I had some cars that had a chrome ‘gutter’ strip that was I believe an upgrade or option.

      And they were fairly functional. Perhaps even moreso for rain than for snow. When I first mentioned this phenomena to others of my generation, they all had the same recollections. That with the gutters there was less of an issue/problem.

      Now perhaps that is due to changes in the shape of vehicles, with them becoming more lozenge and the windows less vertical? But Type I VW’s certainly had a ’rounded’ roof.

      Regardless Sajeev, or his evil twin who obviously took control for this article, is conducting additional research into the who, when, why of this styling issue. Look for a follow-up article sometime in the future.

      • 0 avatar
        cdotson

        I’m serious that the “gutter” is a seam line between the roof panel and the side panels of the vehicles. The VW Typ1 has a full-length roof that meets the side stamping along this long gutter (why so long if no windows to cover?). This is different than American sedans which typically had a gutter over the windows and terminated at the rear of the rear window/door, but this is because American sedan roof panels typically attached to the rear quarter around the beltline. This is what caused many American cars to rust out at the bottom of the rear windows, and what allowed the famously water-tight structure of the Typ1 was this difference in body assembly.

        The chrome covers may have been a styling issue, but that (and likely the common name) was secondary to the genuine purpose they served of allowing primitive steel body construction techniques.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          I appreciate you input, and do remember some vehicles having rust issues in that area.

          The Type I ‘gutter’ appears designed to allow the rain to ‘flow’ along its length. Or is it merely a styling cue. Perhaps a minor homage to the central dorsal fin on the Bugatti Aerolithe and Atlantic?

          If you inspect pictures of some Tatras, not only do they have this gutter strip, it also extends down and ahead front window, for the entire length of the window.

  • avatar
    Adam Tonge

    If you open the door and jump in the car really fast, the snow won’t have time to get inside.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Do we have a bunch of engineers on vacation this week? I have never heard so many over-engineered answers to such a simple question

    If you want to know the time DON’T ask an engineer, he’ll tell you how to make a watch

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The window deflectors you can buy online or thru Weathertech are good if you want to crack your windows in the heat and not worry about getting water inside if it rains. Doesn’t help with the snow but it works for cracking your windows in the heat.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The first car I bought did not have gutters and every time it rained and you opened the door you would get a lap full of water. That was a 73 Chevelle DeLuxe sedan. I don’t remember my 77 Monte Carlo having a real gutter as well. I think my 85 Mitsubishi Mighty Max pickup had gutters. The last time I remember roof gutters being on most vehicles was the early 70s which is about the last time I remember vent windows being on most cars–it took trucks over a decade to start doing away with those things.


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